A reader writes:
Let me dissent from the lamentations over the publishing industry and suggest there are multiple facets to the situation. There is the "industry" which commits all the sins you and your readers are enumerating. They publish things like The Secret or turn James Frey's novel into a "memoir of emotional truth."
Then there is publishing, which continues on displaying a love of the written word, something I believe to be exemplified by my own employer, McSweeney's, which published a seven volume treatise on violence by William Vollman (Rising Up and Rising Down) that would never have seen the light of day, as well as Lawrence Weschler's "Everything that Rises: A Book of Convergences," which is both beautiful and edifying.
I'm getting into what I hope is a melding between publishing and industry myself this fall, with the launch of an imprint dedicated to humorous books, TOW Books. I can tell you that I and my corporate partners/overlords are taking tremendous care with the preparation of the books and I've not only read the manuscripts, but read them seven or eight times. The authors have collaborated on the design and illustration of the books through the whole process. Obviously a book is product, but it's a product that my authors will love. I'm behind this project enough that I've decided to publish my next book through the imprint, putting my own money where I hope my mouth is.
Anyway, there's those of us out there who love publishing and do still work in publishing. Next time you're looking to publish a book, go indie, you won't go back.
Another reader defends Big Publishing:
As your author/reader points out publishing sales reps, of which I’m one, don’t travel with the actual books, which aren’t ready when we sell in, but often with galleys (when they are ready), and catalogs with info about the book. Each season I have to sell several 100 adult and children’s books to mom-and-pop stores, if I were to carry in that many books it would require a couple of SUVs not good for the environment and the owners of the stores would look at me like I’m nuts.
What the author doesn’t mention or doesn’t know is that the publishers send out galleys to stores, as do reps, as they become available, so that stores have an opportunity to read and look over books. Also, sales reps read many of these books in manuscript before they sell them, and spend hours prepping by going through tons of material provided by editors before they go in and sell so that they can sell the appropriate books to the appropriate bookstore. I’m not going to waste the time of a literary bookstore by discussing a diet or self-help book with them.
Publishing, like the pharmaceutical industry, is not perfect, nor has it ever been. There was never some gold age of publishing. And books, like pharmaceuticals, are subject to market forces, whether we like it or not. There are salaries to pay, benefits to provide, paper to buy, shipping to pay for (which goes up as gas goes up), royalties and advances to pay (the biggest percentage of the cost of most books), and on-and-on. And like pharmaceuticals there are the occasional execs who will make questionable decisions (believe me I’ve seem them in action), however, like big pharma big publishing still turns out quality. I can point to hundreds of good and important books that have been published in the last few years from nonfiction, like Fiasco and your book, to fiction, like Lay of the Land or the novels Orhan Pamuk.
And finally, there are the readers. Publishers are going to publish what people want to buy. And a large number of people want the likes of James Patterson and Dan Brown. We live in a market economy, and as I mentioned before, this affects book publishing. How can you isolate books from what you think the rest of the economy should be subject to?
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